This Too Shall Light by Amy HelmRelease date: September 21, 2018
Label: Yep Roc Records
The name Amy Helm might not leap out at you with any obvious recognition, but look closely at the surname, and you find a lady enriched with a deep connection to Americana, Country, Gospel and Blues, all of which form the basis for her sophomore album This too shall light. Not only is she the daughter of the legendary Band drummer/singer Levon Helm and singer/songwriter Libby Titus, but she has also contributed a lengthy list of backing vocals to many songs from albums and artists which you may already have in your collection, for this reviewer Mercury Rev’s Deserter Songs and Rosanne Cash’s The River and the Thread, to name but just two. So, it is of no surprise Amy’s strong, clear voice, is the centre-point of the record, supplemented by a carefully selected set of songs with the help of producer Joe Henry; a few of which are of great personal significance to her.
Those with deep family ties are her versions of the piano driven and upbeat tempo of ‘The stones I throw’, originally released in 1965 by her father under Levon and the Hawks, and the closing cappella, gospel call of ‘Gloryland’, a song which was arranged with and passed onto her by her late father. But the song which sets the tone and continues the high standard of song-writing, is the co-penned MC Taylor (Hiss Golden Messenger) and Josh Kaufman album opener and title-track. It announces the crisp, clear production which allows Amy’s strong vocals to soar.
There is a theme of hope under the help and guidance of others, whether it is folk singer ‘‘Odetta, please carry me along’’ in ‘Odetta’, which has a piano flourish Jools Holland would be rather proud of. Or in the gospel tinged cover of Allen Touissant’s ‘Freedom for the stallion’ and the lyric ‘oh lord, you’ve got to help us find a way’. While the background vocals throughout add subtle soothing depth. In fact, the sound quality and playing on the album is practically faultless by Doyal Bramhall 11 on guitar, drummer Jay Bellerose, and bassist Jennifer Condose.
There are, of course, traces of her father’s legendary band, The Band, which you can hear in the earthy, rootsy sound, of ‘Michigan’ and ‘Freedom for the Stallion.’ Although, where the album dips, is when they slow it down with a couple of quieter songs, which were probably chosen for variation and hoping to create a deeper emotive power – ‘Long Daddy green’ and ‘Heaven’s holding me’ – although immaculately played, don’t quite raise the crushing emotional pull great soulful ballads do reach. Or, indeed, how Rhiannon Giddens successfully managed to translate on her powerful and poignant Freedom Highway album.
However, it doesn’t distract too much and This too shall light is nevertheless still a good album. Covering themes of trying to stay strong and maintain hope through choppy, uncertain times, is unfortunately currently very relevant. It works especially well as a good Sunday morning record, especially for a spot of spiritual, heart and soul uplift. The well-crafted songs are neatly arranged for Amy’s voice to lead and shine, aided by subtle layered supportive backing vocals, as Amy herself has contributed to many artists over the years, and backed, supplemented, and executed by a set of very accomplished musicians.